I've already changed this. What was the start of chapter one is now a prologue.


Salford, Manchester. February

"It's a four! You're going to… Venice!"

Evie Elliot closed her hand over the dice on the low table and glanced at the piece of paper lying beside it. Sure enough beside the wobbly number four written in her special green marking pen was the name of the city in question.

"Roll again," she instructed.

"That's cheating," her friend Dan said petulantly.

He reached for Evie's hand but she snatched it out of reach, upsetting the dregs of her wine glass in the process.

"Dan! Look what you've done!"

Evie flailed about, swearing and attempting to mop up the burgundy stain before the ratty beige carpet was ruined and she definitely lost her rental deposit. Meanwhile Dan captured the dice swiftly and tucked it into the fold of his turban, smiling triumphantly.

"Nope," he said firmly, grinning the maddening grin of the less than sober. "You said whichever number it landed on was where you'd go. What's wrong with Venice, anyway? You'd fit right in. All that titan red hair of yours."

"Titian. Like the painter," Evie corrected automatically.

She shoved the hair in question behind her ears and dabbed at the stain with what she realised too late was a handful of Year 4's Embroidered Victorian Samplers that had somehow fallen out of her bag. At least spreading them out to inspect the damage gave her an excuse to delay answering.

"It was a stupid idea," she said. "I'll just put the money in the bank. Or pay for a carpet cleaner." She gazed ruefully at the stain, picturing their landlord's expression when he saw it.

Dan reached for her glass and poured half his wine into it. He pressed it into her hand.

"It was a brilliant idea," he insisted. "How many times are you likely to win five hundred pounds on the Premium Bonds? Never! You should spend it on something fun. You need fun!"

Evie sipped the wine, feeling a dull throb staring at the side of each temple. She regretted ever starting the game.

Write down the name of six places she had never been, roll a dice then book a holiday to whichever number came up. It had seemed like a great idea, but then after drinking the best part of a bottle of wine on a Thursday night, so did most things Dan suggested.

Fun was something in short supply these days, especially since Lowlife Adam had ended what barely merited the description 'relationship' a week after New Year.

Evie realised she had begun thinking in inverted commas and drained her glass.

"Ok," she admitted. "It was a good idea. Just maybe the wrong place."

"What's wrong with Venice? You come in on this great boat from the airport, there are bars everywhere and you could have a hot romance with a gondola."

"Gondolier," Evie corrected with a smile that faded almost instantly. "I don't think I'll be having romances with anyone for a long time."

A holiday was tempting though. The Spring term had been long and miserable; another five weeks before the Easter break and nothing to look forward to at the end of it. A few days abroad during the two-week holiday would be a dream.

Dan frowned. "Adam was an idiot. What kind of man sleeps around when he's got a woman like you waiting for him?"

"A Venetian," Evie muttered bitterly, dismissing the compliment.

Or at least, the first man to do that had been, but sadly not the last. Dan was staring at her quizzically.

"Show me the list again," she asked.

Dan passed it over, reading aloud. "Barcelona…Milan…Prague…Venice… Zurich…Copenhagen. Hey, these aren't even in alphabetical order! Give me one good reason why Venice is a bad idea," he said. "A good reason."

He lifted one leg across the other and spun his wheelchair so he was looking directly at the table. Evie leaned beside him on the sofa, stretching her legs out. She leaned her head against his shoulder and looked at them in the mirror over the fireplace, her copper hair bright against his jet black quiff.

They had worked together at Hocker Road Primary School for three years and had long since negotiated the awkward balance of attraction and friendship, coming down firmly on the side of friendship. Now it was the two of them against the Senior Leadership Team, giggling through staff meetings and, when the parents were especially vile, sharing wine on school nights when they should be marking books. She'd heard enough of his relationship woes, it was only fair if she returned the favour.

"I went out with a bloke from Venice once," Evie admitted. "At university when I was an undergrad. He was a couple of years older than me, on an exchange programme for PhD students or something. He gave a couple of seminars on Venetian art and we got together. I thought it was love. He obviously didn't because on the night of my final exam I found him in bed with someone else. I'd been going to stay with him but after that we never spoke again. I changed my plans. Went to Florence for the summer instead then came back and started my teacher training."

She crumpled the list and tossed it into the bin in the corner.

"And I never went to Venice."

"You can't resent the whole city for what one slimeball did!" Dan said. "He probably doesn't even live there any more. I know you've always wanted to go there to see the art."

"Yes, but not on my own."

"It's hardly downtown Delhi," Dan said.

"I know," Evie agreed.

"I'd come with you except canals, bridges and wheelchairs don't mix." Dan tapped his glass against his wheel to illustrate the point. "Go on, and if you do bump into him he'll see what he's missed out on."

Evie closed her eyes, picturing Cosimo Zafoni as she remembered him. Shoulder length hair that was almost black, except when the sun caught the curls, a shaggy beard that he'd hoped made him look like a young Bruce Springsteen, and the bluest eyes she had ever seen. Even now the memory turned her insides to jelly.

She mentally gave herself a shake. He wouldn't look like that now of course. He'd be in his mid-thirties, probably married to a sleek Italian with a couple of Boden catalogue kids, the earring and Nirvana t-shirt long gone, the battered guitar and the Star Trek dvds consigned to the bin. Whereas she was still living alone in a shared house with a Nathan Fillion poster on the wall, a bad tempered cat and half a dozen equally dismal relationships under her belt.

It was long past time to move on.

The idea was becoming more tempting. Evie sat forward and slicked her hair back behind her ears decisively. "I'll do it! I'll look for flights on Saturday morning."

"Do it now," Dan instructed. He reached for the laptop that balanced perilously on the edge of Evie's desk and passed it to her.

He refilled their glasses as she flipped up the screen and began searching for flights. The urge was irresistible now. She pictured the Grand Canal lined with palazzos, The Academia with art that took her breath away even in photographs, San Marco with cafes selling exorbitantly priced cappuccino. All the things she'd read about and longed to see. In just over a month she could be there. She was kidding herself if she even pretended she wasn't going to do it. Flights first, then she'd worry about a hotel.

"Manchester 5am. I could be there by mid-morning on the Saturday," Evie said. She reached for her bag and rummaged inside until she found her purse.

Dan held out the dice as she pulled out her credit card.

"Sure you don't want to roll again?" he asked with a knowing grin.

Evie shook her head. She typed in the card number and refilled the glasses, excitement growing within her.

"What if you bump into Signore Slimeball?" Dan asked.

"Then he'd better watch out or I'll push him into a canal," Evie laughed.

The memory of Cosimo Zafoni had held her back long enough. She was no longer the innocent twenty year old, silly enough to be talked into bed by a chocolate-voiced reading of Dante but a sensible twenty-eight year old. She'd be blowed if she was going to miss out on the city she'd always wanted to see because of a man she would never see again. He probably didn't even live there any more.

She slammed her finger down onto the keyboard and pressed enter.

"To Venice!" Dan cheered, raising his glass aloft.

"To Venice!" she agreed, clinking hers with it.

The end of term could not come round quick enough.